After three decades Noah’s Restaurant still makes it from scratch.
It has been more than 35 years since John Papp helped start Noah’s Restaurant in Stonington Borough, Connecticut, but the long-time globetrotter still travels to every corner of the world and brings back the culinary treasures he finds.
The casual fine dining restaurant’s menu sports such recipes as New Orleans Grilled Shrimp and a hearty Portuguese beef and kale soup, in addition to local staples like clam chowder, flounder, blackfish and Shad, and Shad Roe, a New England ocean and river delicacy as tricky to filet as it is delicious. And of course, there are dishes based on what is in season, for example soft shell crab.
“Nobody wants to eat the same thing all the time. We keep it fresh,” Papp explains. “There are a lot of fun recipes and ingredients that evolve through the years.”
The menu isn’t all that has evolved. Papp and his partner Stan Schwartz went from working the lines themselves to managing a staff of 30-40 behind the scenes, which allows Papp and his wife Debbie to travel to places like Portugal, Mexico, and New Zealand, where their daughter lives.
But after three decades, one thing hasn’t changed: Noah’s commitment to authentic ingredients and scratch-made food.
That’s not just a slogan. Everything in the restaurant is unfrozen, unpreserved, local, and made from scratch; from the fresh-caught scallops to the made-to-order-guacamole. They even make their own noodles. “Most restaurants go with the convenience foods, all the pre-made things, frozen ingredients. But not us. We put our recipes together from basic ingredients on the premises.”
The philosophy can be expensive and logistically tricky, and Papp relies on relationships and loyalty to sustain it. Papp and Schwartz have been sharing the load since the beginning, and after 35 years Noah’s still uses the same local seafood and produce suppliers. Even Noah’s tax accountant is the son of the original bookkeeper.
“So it isn’t unusual for us to have relied on the same accounting system software supplier, Cougar Mountain Software, for the past 30 years,” Papp says.
He kept Cougar Mountain software because it always worked
Software not from scratch
For a foodie, Papp has always had a tech streak.
“I get exited about the perfect porchetta, and I get excited about computers and software,” he says. “I do all the payroll, watch and balance the checkbook, pay our vendors, all in a few hours a week. My accountant does my taxes at year end, but other than that I’m pretty much on my own.”
He bought Cougar Mountain software because it was economical and says he remembers the $125 advertisement in “Computer Shopper Magazine”. He kept Cougar Mountain software because it always worked—not exactly a given for software in the ‘80s.
“I hung in there with Cougar Mountain because they always hung in there with me.”
Yet savvy as he was, Papp always dreaded updating Noah’s computer systems. Not that he didn’t want the latest technology, but his $1.5 million business could grind to a halt if something went wrong. “I milked Windows XP to the end of the end. And when I did upgrade, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Denali,” he says.
That upgrade, from Cougar Mountain Software CMS Professional to the latest version of Denali Accounting software was about a year ago. “I was surprised at how well it went. It was all pretty seamless. There were some questions at first, like the way it handled tips, but the upgrade included technical support, and they helped me make it through the transition.”
It still works, which is really all Papp wanted, but Denali gave him more than he bargained for.
“The payroll system is so much quicker and more intuitive, the screens more beautiful, easier to read,” he says, highlighting the way Denali synchronizes with the restaurant’s outside point-of-sale software. “I can transfer the hours and overtime without manually re-entering all the hours every week. Now it’s automatic.”
Bank Reconciliation is Papp’s favorite updated module. “We balance our checks and accounts every month because your whole financial touchstone is our checking account. It was always kind of a pain, but now it’s definitely doable.”
Noah’s continues to evolve, both in its menu and its tech. Papp’s latest project included fitting the restaurant with high-speed internet phone lines, which he says was far more painful than the Denali upgrade. But that was no surprise: Cougar Mountain has always offered the cutting edge of technology, support and reliability, and that will never change.